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Religion in the Public Sphere - Habermas

Religion in the Public Sphere - Habermas

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Published by: Patrick John McGlinchey on Sep 30, 2012
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05/23/2014

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Jürgen Habermas
Religion in the Public Sphere(1) Religious traditions and communities of faith gained a new,hitherto unexpected political importance.
1
Needless to say, whatinitially spring to mind are the variants of religious fundamen-talism that we face not only in the Middle East, but also inAfrica, Southeast Asia, and on the Indian subcontinent. They oftenlock into national and ethnical conflicts, and today also form theseedbed for the decentralized networks of a form of terrorism thatoperates globally and is directed against the perceived insultsinflicted by a superior Western civilization.Religious conflicts are squeezing their way also into the interna-tional arena. The hopes associated with the political agenda of
multiple modernities
are fueled by the cultural self-confidence ofthose world religions that to this very day shape the physiognomyof the major civilizations. And on the Western side of the fence,the perception of international relations has changed in light ofthe fears of a “clash of civilizations” – “the axis of evil” ismerely one prominent example of this. Even Western intellectuals,to date self-critical in this regard, are starting to go on theoffence in their response to the image of Occidentalism that theothers have of the West.
2
 
1
Peter L. Berger (ed.): The Desecularization of the World, (Washington, 1999).
2
I. Buruma & A. Margalit: Occidentalism. The West in the Eyes of its Enemies, (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 2004)
 
2
What is more surprising is the political revitalization of relig-ion at the heart of Western society. Though there is statisticalevidence of a wave of secularization in almost all European coun-tries since the end of World War II - going hand in hand with so-cial modernization, in the United States all data show that thecomparatively large proportion of the population made up of devoutand religiously active citizens has remained the same over thelast six decades.
3
More importantly: the religious Right is nottraditionalist. Precisely because it unleashes spontaneous energyfor religious revivalism, it causes such irritation among itssecular opponents.The movements for religious renewal at the heart of Western civi-lization are strengthening, at the cultural level, the politicaldivision of the West that was prompted by the Iraq War.
4
With theabolition of the death penalty, with liberal regulations on abor-tion, with setting homosexual partnerships on a par with hetero-sexual marriages, with an unconditional rejection of torture, andgenerally with the privileging of individual rights versus collec-tive goods, e.g., national security, the European states seem tobe moving forward alone down the path they had trodden side byside with the United States. By now, the significance of religionsused for political ends has grown the world over. Against thisbackground, the division of the West is rather perceived as if
3
P. Norris & R. Inglehart: Sacred and Secular, Religion and Politics Worldwide, (Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 2004),Ch.4.
4
J. Habermas, Der gespaltene Westen, (Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/Main, 2004).
 
3
Europe were isolating itself from the rest of the world. Seen interms of world history, Max Weber’s Occidental Rationalism appearsto be the actual deviation.The Occident’s own image of modernity seems, as in a psychologicalexperiment, to undergo a switchover: what has been the supposedly“normal” model for the future of all other cultures suddenlychanges into a special-case scenario. Even if this suggestive Ge-stalt-switch does not quite bear up to sociological scrutiny andif the contrasting evidence can be brought into line with moreconventional explanations of secularization,
5
there is no doubtingthe evidence itself and above all the symptomatic fact of divisivepolitical moods crystallizing around it. The
New York Times
pub-lished two days after the last Presidential elections an article,written by a historian, and entitled “The Day the Enlightenmentwent out”.Irrespective of how one evaluates the facts, the election analysesconfirm that the cultural division of the West runs right throughthe American nation itself: conflicting value orientations – God,gays and guns – have manifestly covered over more tangibly con-trasting interests. The shift in power indicates a mental shift incivil society that here in the United States forms the backgroundto the academic debates on the political role of religion in thepublic sphere.
5
Norris and Inglehart (2004) Ch. 10: Conclusions

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